Acts of Supremacy

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Supremacy, Act of, 1534 (26 Hen. VIII c. 1). This Act, passed in the sixth session of the Reformation Parliament in November–December 1534, defined the headship of the English church, which Henry VIII had progressively asserted over the previous two to three years. The Act claimed merely to ‘confirm and corroborate’ the pre-existing right of the king and his successors to be supreme head on earth of the Church of England. Already in the preamble to the Act in Restraint of Appeals of 1533, the ‘Supreme Head and King’ had been defined as having ‘whole and entire power’ over clergy and laity alike. However, whereas earlier legislation had limited itself to specific fiscal and legal aspects of church authority, the Act of Supremacy conferred personally on the king all spiritual authority to reform abuses and correct doctrine. On 15 January 1535 Henry included the supreme headship in the royal style, and around then transferred its authority to a spiritual ‘vicegerent’, the layman Thomas Cromwell. Such personal control over spiritual issues, as well as spiritual people, was unique to the Henrician supremacy; the title of supreme head was abolished by Mary I in 1554–5 (1 & 2 P. and M. c. 8), to be replaced by the more muted title of ‘Supreme Governor’ under Elizabeth I.

Euan Cameron

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Supremacy, Act of. An Act of 1559 declaring the Queen of England ( Elizabeth I) to be ‘the only supreme governor of this realm … as well in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things or causes as temporal’. The act was a revised form of Henry VIII's Act of 1534 repealed by Mary. It is intrinsic to the ‘establishment’ of the Church of England.

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Supremacy, Act of (in English history) either of two Acts of Parliament of 1534 and 1559 (particularly the former), which established Henry VIII and Elizabeth I as supreme heads of the Church of England and excluded the authority of the Pope. The term is used particularly with reference to the Act of 1534.